Google Photos suffers embarrassing image recognition fail, IDs users as apes
Image recognition is tricky, to say the least. That it works at all is a small miracle, and that it works well enough to be featured as a major selling point of services like Google Photos is a tremendous accomplishment. But for as well as it performs in many cases, there are always going to be those where the tech fails, and over the past couple days Google’s been doing damage control following the public scrutiny of a misidentification with some seriously racially charged implications.
The controversy began on Sunday, when an African-American Google Photos user posted to Twitter about how the service misidentified pictures of him and a friend as ones containing gorillas.
To the company’s credit, Google employees were quick to respond to the incident and denounce the service’s performance as “100% Not OK.” Google’s Yonatan Zunger went on to describe some of the other ongoing struggles of the image-recognition system in Photos, including its problems telling the difference between white-skinned users and animals like dogs or seals. But for a time when racial sensitivity is on the forefront of the American consciousness, this still represents a very public, very embarrassing gaffe for Google.
In its formal statement, Google writes, “We’re appalled and genuinely sorry that this happened. We are taking immediate action to prevent this type of result from appearing. There is still clearly a lot of work to do with automatic image labeling, and we’re looking at how we can prevent these types of mistakes from happening in the future.”